Four things you need to know about the public land heist

November 18, 2016

Tania Lown-Hecht, Outdoor Alliance communications director

Living in Washington D.C., I treasure the opportunities I have to disconnect from my smartphone and email alerts and head outdoors. I’m lucky enough to live near some amazing public lands where I can bike, camp, hike and let my mind wander. Right now, my ability to take advantage of these places is under a serious threat. An aggressive campaign to transfer and privatize our public lands by transferring them state governments has put millions of acres of our forests, mountains, trails and open spaces at risk.

Here are the four most important things to know about the public land heist:

1. America’s mountains, forests, and rivers belong to everyone

Public lands belong to all Americans. They are home to stunning climbing, paddling, hiking, skiing, biking and camping that everyone can access. Every American has a personal stake and a guaranteed say in how these places are cared for. And all Americans have the right to experience and enjoy these places.

2. State lands are not public lands

In the last two years, state legislatures across the country have introduced more than 50 bills to dispose of millions of acres of national public land to state governments. In contrast with federal lands, which are owned by all Americans, state lands are owned by state governments, not by the state residents, and certainly not by Americans who live in other states. While many states do a fantastic job of managing state parks and protecting recreation, state lands are governed by different rules than federal public lands. You don’t have a right to be on state lands, or any rights as to how they are managed and sold.

3. This is not really about state vs. public control

Proponents of the public lands heist claim that this is a “management” issue, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Most of our federal public lands are governed under a multiple-use approach which ensures that recreation and public access receive fair consideration alongside commercial uses. Decisions are typically made by local land managers, with input from local constituents. In contrast, the plan to transfer our public lands to the states is supported by private interests, and has a different objective in mind. Lands under state ownership are not subject to the same mandate that balances our citizens' right to access the land with other uses. Without this framework, states frequently sell or lease their land to support a single activity and send profits to a small group of special interests. In short, the plan to transfer our public lands to the states risks losing them to private uses forever. Proposals to dispose of our public land have received surprising traction with model legislation in western states, and the bad ideas have even spread to Congress, where both the Senate and the House have advanced land transfer legislation.

4. You can help

The idea that we should sell off public lands for profit is a threat to the landscapes we love and to the idea that underpins public lands. America’s craggy mountains, golden plains and rivers belong to all of us, whether we are New Yorkers or Montanans, whether we visit these places every year or hope that our children will someday see them. Outdoor enthusiasts have been speaking out to protect public lands and keep them in public hands. We need more people to speak up around the nation—since the only way we’re going to win this battle is if lawmakers hear loud and clear that this is a bad idea.

Defend your public lands and sign the petition today.

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